Police in Portland, Oregon, may soon find themselves exempt from a statewide order mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all public health officials thanks in no small part to a threatened mass revolt by the city's police union.
According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, the statewide rule was initially interpreted as including law enforcement officials, who all receive medical training as part of their job. But the city has now begun exploring an exemption to the rule, which would allow Portland police to forgo the otherwise mandatory vaccinations. The announcement comes just days after the Willamette Week obtained emails from Portland Police Association attorney Anil Karia suggesting that mandatory vaccinations for cops would lead to widespread walkouts across law enforcement agencies in the city.
"[M]any first responders are deeply opposed to vaccine mandates; so deeply that some will leave the profession before accepting a mandate," Karia insisted in the email, sent in late August to a city official responsible for labor issues. "The city's desire to mandate vaccinations for police and dispatch will ultimately exacerbate an already dangerous staffing crisis in [the Portland Police Bureau] and [the Bureau of Emergency Communications]."
Alarmingly, Portland's police tantrum over vaccinations is hardly unique. Law enforcement union representatives in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as in Chicago, Seattle, and other major cities have all issued similarly apocalyptic forecasts at the prospect of mandatory vaccinations for their members. And while the possibility of a Portland exemption for police technically hinges on the vague language of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's targeting of the state's "health care" workers (per OPB, the question hinges on the city's review of the order, which concluded that health care is "likely not a fundamental part of [police officers'] job"), the broader trend is inarguably stupider than a simple case of vague language. Here we have police officers across the country — people who, at least ostensibly, have dedicated their professional lives to the public good — actively resisting one of the most effective methods of ending a pandemic that has ravaged their own ranks. Put another way: It's hard to imagine the city would be exploring an exemption if the police weren't already so obstinately opposed to doing the simple, responsible thing in the first place.
In fact, COVID outbreaks have already shut down entire police departments around the country. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, COVID was the number one cause of death for active duty police officers in 2020. "By far," Case Western Reserve University professor Mark Singer, who studied the data, explained. "It's not even close."
In Portland, meanwhile, a representative for the police union told OPB that it does not track vaccination rates for its members. If officers are indeed granted an ultimate exemption from the city vaccine mandate, it seems likely that the staffing shortages hinted at by the union attorney might happen anyway. Just perhaps not for the reason they thought.